Tuesday, May 09, 2006

On Grammar

Most everyone is in agreement that the names we currently use to describe video game genres are lacking. Individually, they are too broad, lumping together very different games, and yet, collectively, they are too narrow, without a place for many types of gameplay. I've even seen it argued by some designers that these names are actually influencing design, subtly forcing games into a mould and stifling innovation. However, noone seems inclined to do anything about it. I propose a loosely-defined expandable/refineable grammar to describe a game, defined by the following initial debatably-ordered syntax:

[dimensions] [camera] [flow] [pacing] [menu] [players] [player character stat/skill growth]-[instanced player character multiplicity]-PC [setting] [impetus]-driven [opposition density] [method of violence] [impediments and/or required/central tasks]

Each element would have a generally agreed-upon list of possible values that could be expanded on demand. As examples of its use, the original Final Fantasy would be a "2D top-down turn-based speed-independent menu-based single-player combat/acquisition-grown-multiple-PC fantastical story-driven thick-opposition abstracted-violence combat/exploration" game, while World of Warcraft would be a "3D 3rd-person real-time moderately-paced menu-heavy massively-multiplayer combat/acquisition-grown-single-PC fantastical combat/interaction-driven moderate-opposition magic/melee combat/exploration" game, KOTOR would be a "3D 3rd-person turn-based moderately-paced menu-heavy single-player combat/event/acquisition-grown-multiple-PC futuristic/fantastical story/theme-driven moderate-opposition magic/melee/firearm combat" game, Katamari Damashii would be a "3D 3rd-person real-time briskly-paced menu-less 1-2-player acquisition-grown-single-PC whimsical/real-world humour-driven thin-opposition non-violent time-restricted/exploration" game, Contra would be a "2D side-scrolling real-time fast-paced menu-less 1-2-player acquisition-grown-single-PC real-world challenge-driven thick-opposition firearm combat/platforming" game, and Karaoke Revolution would be a "3D dynamic-camera real-time variably-paced menu-less 1-8-player growthless-single-PC real-world embarrassment/challenge-driven opposition-free non-violent singing" game. I think that these descriptors give a good feel for how each of these games are played. I had included information on music and setting licensing, but decided that, since it doesn't directly impact gameplay, it probably should not be included. That would start things on a slippery slope towards inclusion of things like platform, developer, and price.

For the purpose of categorizing/broadening, individual elements of these descriptors could be dropped as the writer/speaker pleases. For instance, the current genre MMORPG would be roughly/debatably described as "real-time menu-heavy massively-multiplayer combat/acquisition-grown-single-PC combat/interaction-driven magic/melee combat/exploration" games. The individual elements, their ordering, and their possible values would all be open to change, removal, or addition via general opinion, or perhaps at the discretion of the publishers. So, what does everyone thing? Brilliant? Obvious? Impractical? Incredibly useless and ill-conceived? Too-verbose way of describing games more precisely than is necessary? Suggestions for further syntactic elements are welcome (and I may update this post with more of my own as they occur to me).

Note: As an aside, this week is my, as Aiden termed it, Christmas 2. That is to say, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, is this week-- an annual event in LA that is the single largest and most consequential source of video game news all year, and a show that I would give up a limb to get a chance to attend. I always get excited at this time of year, and rabidly consume all the news and media. Anyway, rather than spam all of my friends every time something new is announced, which is my modus operandi in years past, I'm trying to restrict myself to a handful of dense posts over on Smiling Politely. So, for anyone interested, my E3 news and impressions will be here.

7 Comments:

Anonymous NOS said...

Well, *I* think this should have been an SP post but I won't whine about it.

I also fall under the "unworkable, unecessary" camp, for general purposes. If you are talking about some sort of taxonomy for academic purposes: *shrug* Not clear to me that it is useful.

I feel that, fundamentally, games are a medium/art much like film, music, and literature. In those other media, genres are pretty vague, nebulous, and constantly being refined as new categories are added. I think it does games a disservice to deconstruct them in terms of mechanical details at such a fine grain. If anything, it would reinforce the problem of, "these names... influencing design, subtly forcing games into a mould and stifling innovation." (Although I will mention here I would disagree with that claim, insomuch that the *name* of the genre is not the problem.)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006 2:59:00 PM  
Blogger Jordan said...

Well, *I* think this should have been an SP post
I think so as well, as was well aware of that when I posted it. However, this page is overdue for an update, whereas I'll be putting plenty of E3 stuff on SP over the next few days.

Not clear to me that it is useful.
I guess what I'm looking for is a game categorization method that actually gives me a feel for the game without requiring an actual full-on explanation.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006 4:32:00 PM  
Blogger Jordan said...

Sorry for the double post.

I also fall under
Also?

I see these descriptors as being perhaps useful things to include on retail websits, or on game boxes. I just really like that most any crazy game can generally be described without much trouble, whereas those games often fall well outside of existing genres.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006 4:38:00 PM  
Anonymous NOS said...

I guess what I'm looking for is a game categorization method that actually gives me a feel for the game without requiring an actual full-on explanation.

I guess I just think that "3D 3rd-person real-time briskly-paced menu-less 1-2-player acquisition-grown-single-PC whimsical/real-world humour-driven thin-opposition non-violent time-restricted/exploration" does not capture the gameplay of Katamari Damacy near as much as "game where you roll around a ball of junk to collect more junk to become a bigger ball of junk".

Thursday, May 11, 2006 12:22:00 AM  
Blogger Jordan said...

*shrug* I think it does a better job than your description, personally. How do I know that it's not a turn-based puzzle game?

Thursday, May 11, 2006 12:56:00 PM  
Anonymous NOS said...

I guess I am less concerned with technical details like all of these various specific mechanical details than I am with, well, how the game *feels*.

A high level tag gives you some idea of what to expect out of the game. Your 27 word monstrosity (if you'll forgive me) does nothing for me. I have no idea what it is describing. It feels very much like a bunch of trees, each one of which I can clearly identify, out of which I cannot discern any forest. I'm not interested in trees, I'm interested in forests.

Perhaps it is just my brain. Unfortunately, I'm stuck with it for the time being, and so merely report to you the results.

It's also worth mentioning that no other medium has a classification scheme so clinical. You do not hear about movies that are "Shakespearean-tragedy non-violent family-conflict dialogue-driven no-CGI digitally-filmed ensemble-cast non-linear comedies." I'm not convinced why this level of granularity is necessary for games, as it is fairly unprecedented.

Thursday, May 11, 2006 3:25:00 PM  
Anonymous vern said...

Games are more diverse than movies, (no matter what the movie, you just sit and watch), so a more detailed level of categorization seems almost expected.
But what you say is kinda unwieldly. I also don't like strict levels of categorization, and once a game isn't described well-enough with this system, it will have to be modified. That's not useful.

"game where you roll around a ball of junk to collect more junk to become a bigger ball of junk", seems inherent in it that it's NOT turn based, otherwise it would've been stated. Also, already existing explanations would say whether it is turn-based or not.

If you really wanted to use this, you'd need to refine/change your categories. They work for FF and kotor, but don't work well for katamarii damashii or karaoke revolution; ie: they don't work well for games outside the usual game standard which is common right now, in that they don't capture the feel of the game for me. But that's a problem with all categorizations.

Friday, May 12, 2006 9:54:00 PM  

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